Writer's Block: Elee Kraljii Gardiner
We chat with author Elee Kraljii Gardiner about her latest book, Trauma Head from Anvil Press—shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry—which follows her experiences after a mini-stroke in 2012, her most pleasurable moments as a writer, and why airplanes are productivity capsules.
Photo credit: Paul JosephSee more details below
All Lit Up: What’s one book you always recommend?
Elee Kraljii Gardiner: Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s As We Have Always Done stays in my thoughts, not only as I consider possible paradigm shifts in socio-political structures but as a book that has changed and confirmed me. The book considers enduring knowledge systems I am unfamiliar with, and does so in the most beautiful, academic and intuitive prose. I keep learning from it. I also feel a big impact from their previous books, Islands of Decolonial Love and This Accident of Being Lost.
ALU: Do you have any rituals that you abide by when you’re writing?
EKG: Vancouver is perilously dark, and rainy, and dark, and dark, so I have been lighting candles first thing in the morning and making sure I have one by my laptop. It combats the fluorescent/digital.
ALU: Where and how do you do your best writing?
EKG: On airplanes, which have suddenly become extremely productive spaces for me. I eat M&Ms, put in ear buds, and write book reviews or do editing jobs I have stored up. I am a mentor at Vancouver Manuscript Intensive and do lots of editing for friends and new writers, as well doing assignments for my MFA. Without other options than sitting in the rigid seat with a tiny tray table, I feel excited to maximize my productivity, to get the most out of being trapped. When I walk off the plane I feel ahead of my to-do list, no matter what new time zone I am in.
This ability to write on planes used to be one I assumed was beyond me when I heard other busier writers mention it, probably because plane flights were something I did with wiggly children. When my children got old enough to wriggle less, I collapsed into watching movies and reading. Now five hours of blank time is a huge open field for writing and editing.
I work well in waiting rooms and hospitals—the stasis of waiting amidst a hum of activity that does not require my attention or social interaction suits me!
Elee's stationary workspace.
ALU: What are your top pleasurable moments as a writer?
- forgetting what time it is because I am writing
- being anxious to get back to the writing because it is flying out of me
- seeing galleys for the first time
- holding the actual book
- learning how to read from the book and having the audience melt into the listening when I do it well
- signing a book for a stranger
- hearing from people I esteem explain why they connect with my work
ALU: What are you working on now?
EKG: An on-and-off-the-page questioning of authority, power and control.
Elee's advice for poets.
ALU: If you wrote a memoir, what would it be called?
EKG: I did—the year-long memoir in poetry called Trauma Head tracks healing from a vertebral artery dissection and blood clot in my brainstem. My author photo is a still image from the MRI film, which is where I got the name for the book.
ALU: What’s the toughest part about being a writer?
EKG: Inequity and lack of funding is taking its toll on my friends and the thinking community. Not only are literary organizations underfunded and overworked but writers rarely, if ever, have adequate support for the true amount of unscheduled, unpressured time they need. In Vancouver the housing situation is precipitous and cruel; the amount of stress on the community is palpable.
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Excerpt from the poem “Which”
If my feeling were an animal it would be a marmot.
If my feeling were another animal on another day
it would be another marmot.
Because it is neither zephyr nor scirocco,
neither drought nor funnel cloud,
it must be a pulse storm. I am beating
away what feels bad.
Elee Kraljii Gardiner is the author of serpentine loop (Anvil Press, 2016) and the co-editor with John Asfour of V6A: Writing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012), and editor of the forthcoming Against Death: 35 Essays on Living (Anvil Press). She is the founder and creative mentor of Thursdays Writing Collective, a non-profit organization of Downtown Eastside writers, and editor and publisher of eight of its anthologies. For more: www.eleekg.com.
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Thanks so much to Elee for answering our questions, and to Cara Lang at Anvil Press for connecting us! For more Writer's Block, click here.
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